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Humanitarian response to Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor remains inadequate

  • Alert
  • South Sudan
  • January 30, 2021
Humanitarian response to Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) in Pibor remains inadequate

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Following FEWS NET’s December alert detailing the evidence indicating that Famine is Likely (IPC Phase 5)[1] in Pibor County in eastern South Sudan, available information suggests that conditions remain indicative of Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) (Figure 1). Delivery of humanitarian food assistance is likely inadequate to drive notable improvements in food security outcomes among a significant proportion of the Pibor population. Meanwhile, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes with some households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) remain likely in five additional counties of high concern, including Tonj South, Tonj East, Tonj North, Aweil South, and Akobo. Overall, FEWS NET estimates 6 to 8 million people in South Sudan will be in need of humanitarian food assistance monthly through mid-2021. Roughly 50,000 to 75,000 of these people are expected to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5),[2] and at least 33,000 of them are located in Pibor. An immediate and significant scale-up of humanitarian food assistance delivery and humanitarian access is needed to save lives. As South Sudan faces its second Famine in four years, an end to the ongoing violence is ultimately needed to alleviate the extreme levels of hunger that have persisted throughout much of South Sudan’s independence.

Pibor update: In October and November, available evidence indicated that the proportion of the population facing extreme food consumption gaps and the Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence had surpassed the Famine thresholds. Data on mortality were unavailable, but high levels of hunger-related mortality were assessed to be likely. On average, humanitarian actors have reached only 25 percent of the population in need in Pibor – where 90 percent of the population requires food assistance – with food assistance equivalent to 50 percent of their monthly kilocalories needs since November. This is significantly lower than the 54 percent of the population in need that was reached in Leer following the declaration of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in 2017 (Figure 2). Although it is possible that food assistance is reaching the population most in need, information on targeting is unavailable. New food security or acute malnutrition indicator data have also not been collected due to the sensitive operating environment and humanitarian access constraints in conflict-affected areas. Therefore, data is inadequate to confirm or deny that food assistance has reached the population most in need. Further, there are significant concerns that food assistance has not been sustained at similar levels in January. As of late January, an interim WFP distribution update indicated that only 12 percent of the Pibor population had received food assistance. The numbers reached remain far below the level of need, with an estimated 90 percent of the Pibor population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes in the December 2020-May 2021 period.

Without a sustained scale-up in food assistance, FEWS NET anticipates that Famine is Likely (IPC Phase 5) to persist in Pibor through at least mid-2021. Although flood waters have receded and permitted some displaced households to return to their places of origin, households still are expected to have little to no harvest of their own to rely on. As the November-May dry season progresses, conflict and insecurity are expected to rise and lead to new displacements and increased difficulty accessing fishing, hunting, and wild food gathering grounds, markets, and food distribution points. As a result, household food consumption gaps are expected to remain severe, with limited coping capacity for many poor households. A UN Department of Safety and Security white alert notice, which was circulated to humanitarian actors in January, also raises the likelihood that humanitarian operations could temporarily be suspended. Past trends show humanitarians may be unable to deliver food assistance due to threats of attack, protection concerns, and logistic constraints, which could limit prepositioning and ground and air deliveries.

Multisectoral response: Despite efforts to implement a multisectoral response, the humanitarian response is scaling up slowly and has not alleviated the extreme levels of hunger and acute malnutrition currently being experienced by a substantial proportion of the Pibor population. Humanitarian organizations are targeting up to 119,000 people in the six counties of highest concern between December 2020 and June 2021 with a response valued at 68.5 million USD. In addition to food assistance, the response includes support to health and nutrition services and livelihoods support, among other services. However, humanitarian actors report that response activities are inhibited by limited physical access, increasing levels of localized violence, insufficient partner presence on the ground, and resource constraints. At a minimum, an additional 22.1 million USD is required to meet the funding requirements for planned emergency food and livelihood assistance. In addition, the considerable access constraints faced by humanitarians in Pibor and other areas such as greater Tonj must be resolved.

Potential for data collection: As of late January, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health indicated that planning is underway for a SMART survey to collect Global Acute Malnutrition data in the six counties of highest concern, including Pibor. The assessment is currently expected to be implemented in March. Discussions are ongoing regarding whether the survey will collect weight-for-height or middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) measurements, with MUAC a safer alternative, given the risk of COVID-19, but a less reliable measurement method.

Summary of other areas of concern:

  • There is also a high likelihood that significant proportions of the population are experiencing food consumption gaps indicative of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in greater Tonj, Aweil South, and Akobo. Of these counties, greater Tonj is the area of highest concern. Conditions in greater Tonj have remained volatile since October, marked by armed conflict and insecurity that limit household access to food and income sources. In Tonj North, armed clashes in mid-December displaced approximately 3,000 people, while armed groups continue to carry out cattle raids and ambushes along trade routes that impede assistance delivery, trade flows, and market functioning. Violence also continues to be reported in Tonj South and Tonj East. As a result, no households in greater Tonj received food assistance in November or December, even as an estimated 55-60 percent of the local population experiences Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes.
  • Furthermore, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes remain widespread across much of South Sudan. South Sudan continues to experience multiple, compounding shocks, resulting in deep cereal deficits at the national level, severe crop losses in flood-affected areas, and exorbitant staple food prices. In December, the price of sorghum rose by as much as 200 percent compared to December 2019 and 140 percent compared to the five-year average, according to available data. Further, an uptick in conflict and insecurity in several areas – including Maban and Melut of Upper Nile; Cueibet, Rumbek Centre, and Yirol West of Lakes; Uror, Nyirol, and Duk of Jonglei; and Terekeke and Lainya of Central Equatoria – raises the risk of exacerbating the severity of food insecurity in localized, conflict-affected areas. Additionally, significant flooding in January along the Nile River in Panyijiar of Unity, as well as persistently high flood waters in Duk and Twic East of Jonglei, are limiting livelihood activities and delivery of food assistance in these areas.
  • Nationally, FEWS NET anticipates that up to 8 million people — more than 60 percent of the population – will be in need of food assistance during the May to August 2021 lean season. Although humanitarian response plans indicate funded food assistance is likely to reach up to 20 percent of the national population during the lean season, a sizeable gap remains. Because the underlying causes of the already high levels of food insecurity are likely to persist into 2021, there is a risk that Famine (IPC Phase 5) could occur in additional areas of South Sudan if further shocks were to isolate households from food sources for a prolonged period of time. A significant scale-up in food assistance in Pibor and the rest of South Sudan, as well as guaranteed humanitarian access, are necessary. Ultimately, a sustainable resolution to conflict and an end to the ongoing violence is urgently needed to save lives.

[1] Famine (IPC Phase 5) and Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) classifications are used to describe the same conditions. The classification Famine Likely (IPC Phase 5) signifies that while information is insufficient to confirm or deny whether all three thresholds that define a Famine declaration have been met, available evidence suggests two of the three thresholds have been surpassed and that Famine is likely ongoing.

[2] The IPC classifies acute food insecurity at the household level and area level. At the household level, Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) occurs when a household group has an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even after full employment of coping strategies. At the area level, Famine (IPC Phase 5) occurs when at least 20 percent of the households in a given area have an extreme lack of food; the Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence, as measured by weight-for-height z-score, exceeds 30 percent; and mortality, as measured by the Crude Death Rate (CDR), is greater than 2 per 10,000 per day.

Figures Map of South Sudan showing projected food security outcomes from February to May 2021

Figure 1

Figure 1

Source: FEWS NET

Chart showing the reach of humanitarian food assistance relative to estimated need following 2020 Famine Likely classificatio

Figure 2

Figure 2

Source: WFP distribution data; IPC estimates

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